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Editor's Note: Microsoft as Benchmark? Pfft! Think Again!

Jun 04, 2004, 23:30 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

I had a very interesting conversation with a Linux businessman last week.

That, in itself, was not unusual. I have lots of conversations with business and development folk over the course of my work day--some sort of interesting, some not so interesting. There are a lot of people who are involved in Free and Open Source software who want to get their messages out to a lot more people. Sites like Linux Today can help them meet that need, they hope.

You might be surprised, or not, at how many people want to get a message out to the Linux community or the broader IT community that says: "Hey, we use Linux to do this, this, and that, please buy our product..." and it turns out their committment to open source is a bit more lax than they would have your believe.

Understand, you don't have to be an idealist to be able to create and market a decent open source product. Opera makes a great browser, but they ain't open source.

It's no secret the Linux market is much more receptive to those companies for pay more than lip service to open code. And here's the thing: I am starting to see signs that the mainstream IT market is thinking along the same lines, too.

Access to code, in some way or another, is becoming more of a selling point than ever.

Back to the conversation: much of what was discussed was embargoed, so I can't share it yet. I will later. But the part that was the most interesting to me was that this person was the first person I have met who pitched their product and did not compare it to any Microsoft product.

And this wasn't avoiding a comparison because they thought they could not stand toe-to-toe with the behemoth from Redmond. From the discussion and the documents, I was left with the genuine impression that they simply did not care how their product stacked up against its Microsoft counterpart. Instead, they made their comparisions solely against Red Hat, SUSE, and Sun.

At that moment, I realized, another watershed moment had passed: Linux has become strong enough that it no longer has to be compared with Windows. These people know that IT admins and CIOs are getting so clued in to open source, they don't need to see endless comparisions with Microsoft or other proprietary wares. Linux can stand on its own and be comparison shopped with different flavors of itself.

Now, to be fair, I think more than a little part of this particular company's approach was because they are trying to get in front of disgruntled Windows admins who facing see end-of-life support for Windows NT 4 in December and are looking for something else. So, openly comparing it to Microsoft might backfire. But even with that slightly cynical point of view, we are still at a point in Linux' evolution where this sort of approach is actually possible.

If this approach continues, we may soon see IT admins looking more at open source as a favored feature rather than a curious oddity. Their mindset when talking to salespeople might be: "You're open source, right? Good, fine. Now, tell me why you're better than Distros X, Y, and Z."

The end result of this line of thinking is that the whole concept of free and open source software may be taken for granted someday. Being taken for granted is both good and bad, of course. Universal acceptance of FOSS would be Good. Complacency of licenses would be Bad.

Some would argue that this comparing between Linux flavors will lead to more in-fighting. They have a point. Jonathan Schwartz's recent remarks calling Red Hat a proprietary operating system is just one big symptom of that kind of behavior. I won't argue the validity of these remarks (though I think I could take a run at them. Could you people at Sun be any more contrary?), but I think we're going to see more of the same between all the distros soon, particularly the ones heavily invested in the enterprise.

While I am usually one for peace and calm, I am not convinced that such competiveness would be bad for the Linux community. In moderation, conflict can be good for all sides. Competition can breed innovation. When it just gets silly is where the problems begin, such as endless flamewars.

Such competiveness will be good for the Linux community in another way as well... it will help reduce the fixation some in the community have for Microsoft. As I have said before, there are other more important things to worry about. I think Microsoft and its proprietary cohorts just bait open sourcers just to distract and make them look bad.

This is a new stage for Linux, and I, for one, am glad to see it arrive.


I would like to clear up some housekeeping issues that have arisen of late. Some of you have noted--quite strenuously--that the "Feedback" links accompanying each story no longer work. This is because we, along with the rest of the Jupitermedia sites, are trying to remove as many mailto links as we can, in the ongoing battle against spam harvesters.

Thus, the "editors@linuxtoday.com" alias is no longer active. Currently, the development team is working on a new form that will allow readers to submit feedback directly to me without exposing our servers to more spam. I'll let you know when this becomes active.

In the meantime, you can contact me by sending an e-mail to bproffitt AT jupitermedia DOT com, or by submitting a Talkback addressed directly to me. If you use this latter method, be sure to use your real e-mail if you want a reply. Such talkbacks will be considered private and not be posted.